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English department adopts statement of support for BIPOC students, faculty, staff

October 15, 2020

As the Department of English offers writing courses to almost every first-year student at NIU, they want our university community to know that they have committed to take action to ensure that English is a welcoming place for Black, Indigenous and people of color students, faculty and staff.

The Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Associate Professor Melissa Adams-Campbell, composed a BIPOC support statement that has been endorsed by department leadership and the First Year Composition Committee, in addition to being passed by a majority vote of department employees.

“We want the university community to know that with this statement we are offering more than words. We are committing to action,” said Adams-Campbell. “We are continually striving to make English an even more inclusive and welcoming place to study and learn.”

The statement reads as follows:

Anti-Racist and Inclusive Actions

Our First-Year Composition program prioritizes BIPOC students and anti-racist practices by:

  • Contemporary Voices, an anthology of the work of developmental writers, 1985-present.
  • Unity in Diversity Essay Contest, 1987–2016.
  • Common Reading Experience Essay Contest, 2017-present, including Kahn-Cullors and Bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist (2019–2021), required in all sections of ENGL 103.
  • Fall Open Mic, 2002–present. Covers identity, race, difference, diversity, discrimination.
  • Anti-racist and diversity pedagogy training.
  • FYComp Diversity and Inclusion ad hoc subcommittee, 2019–present.
  • Equity Gap Initiatives, 2017–present.

Our undergraduate and graduate programs prioritize BIPOC students and anti-racist practices by:

  • New 2020-2021 English curriculum requires diversity coursework and makes room for additional diverse and social justice-related course offerings.
  • New Anti-Racist, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion ad hoc committee to advance and implement initiatives across the department.
  • Fall 2020 Brown Bag Teaching Series on anti-racist and diverse pedagogies.
  • Increase BIPOC recruitment efforts in both undergrad and grad programs.
  • Beyond NIU, continue representing race and ethnicity in the profession, Modern Language Association Delegate Assembly membership.
  • In collaboration with history department, develop NIU land acknowledgment statement and increase awareness of Native Americans on campus and in the region.
  • Evaluate barriers to graduate admissions.
  • Expand diverse literature offerings in graduate curriculum.

Recent local and national events have prompted stakeholders from across the English department including students, faculty and staff to work collaboratively to craft the following statement of support for NIU’s Black students, faculty and staff. The statement was approved by a majority vote of the department’s employees.

Members of the Department of English at Northern Illinois University condemn in the strongest possible terms white supremacy as both an organized structure and an individual belief. We come together to affirm that Black Lives Matter and that Black education matters.

In solidarity with Black students, faculty and staff at our university, as well as Black community members across the nation, we recognize that English as a discipline has often excluded or marginalized Black aesthetic forms, Black intellectual and political traditions, Black language use such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Black language users. While we have made positive changes to address these failings, we still have work to do in reforming curricula and policies in relation to our Black, Indigenous and people of color students, faculty and staff. We acknowledge that silence enables anti-Black and racist attitudes and actions, but that words alone will not effect change. Therefore, we pledge to take the following actions:

  • Expand diverse course offerings that center the voices, perspectives, artistic contributions and scholarship of Black, Indigenous and people of color communities.
  • Advance anti-racist pedagogies by addressing the following issues: equity and access; linguistic diversity; structures of power embedded in canonicity, histories of empire and colonization, and racial injustice; and the power of words to foster belonging.
  • Advocate for Black, Indigenous and people of color hires in the department and across NIU.
  • Build structures of support and mentoring for Black and other students, faculty and staff of color.
  • Advocate for resources addressing the protection, safety and well-being of our Black and other students, faculty and staff of color.
  • Collaborate with campus and community academic and cultural centers, including the Center for Black Studies, to promote increased academic and community connections.
  • Facilitate additional educational workshops for students, faculty and staff to develop and deepen cultural competencies.
  • Advance equity-minded measures that propel our students to achieve success at NIU and beyond.

We believe these and other anti-racist and inclusive actions are a shared responsibility across disciplinary areas for all students, faculty and staff. Hate has no home at NIU or in our department; we stand against intolerance toward Jewish, Muslim and people of other religious heritages; disability discrimination; gender and sexual discrimination; genocide; and bigotry in any form.

Across our many programs, we are committed to empowering students as readers, writers, educators and agents whose words can create a more just and equitable world.

In the linked video, you can hear Associate Professor Melissa Adams-Campbell, chair of the Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, read the department’s statement.